Many people who do not understand the Catholic faith will see a statue of Mary or Jesus or hear Catholics asking a Saint for help and assume that Catholics worship false gods. Non-Catholics see these religious statues and artwork as idolatry. They don’t understand why we would ask Saints for help. Do we think they are gods too? Do we think Mary is a goddess? Absolutely not. Catholics are Christians too, and as Christians we worship the one and only true God and we worship Him alone.
Catholic churches and many Catholic homes hold religious statues and artwork. Images of Jesus, Mary, and various other saints adorn jewelry, hang on the walls, and are displayed as statues both indoors and out. But certainly Catholics do not worship these items! Look around your own home. Chances are you have photos of family members, past and present, friends, maybe even photos or posters of celebrities, sports figures, or pop stars hanging somewhere in your home. I think it is safe to say that we do not carry photos of family members in our wallets or display family photos in our homes because we are worshipping them. We love these people, we look up to them, care about them, and enjoy having a visual reminder of how much they mean to us. The same holds true for religious artwork. I have a crucifix in my home not because I worship or pray to it, but because it is a daily, visual reminder of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. A high school athlete may have posters of famous athletes in their room. These are not so the student can worship them, but are for inspiration! Again, the same holds true for Catholic displays of religious art. I have a statue of the Mother Mary in my home because she is an inspiration to me! And the same is true for churches. Catholic churches display religious pictures and statues as reminders to us of the holy people who have gone before us and as an inspiration for us. Not idolatry at all!
Many non-Catholics also do not understand our relationship with the Saints. This is probably because they do not understand what a saint is. A saint is quite simply anyone who is in Heaven. It’s really that simple! Now certainly the Church does not say that the only people in heaven are those officially recognized as Saints. The Church developed a formal process for officially recognizing saints to be sure the same standards were being used everywhere. The Church does not make anyone a saint. Rather, the Church can officially acknowledge that someone is in heaven and declare them an official Saint. This is done through a careful process called canonization which takes several years and is finalized with miracles being attributed to the intercession of the person as proof that they are in heaven and God is working through them.
So do we pray to the Saints? No. We pray with the Saints. Jesus says to us in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is for this reason that we pray in groups, with family members and friends. Likewise, we join in praise with the Saints in heaven and pray with them! Many people will ask family and friends for prayers. You might ask someone to pray for a family member who has become ill. Or you might request prayers for a friend who has lost their job. Certainly you are not praying to these people by asking for their assistance. In the same way, we ask the assistance of the saints. Who better to ask for prayers and guidance than those who have gone before us and are in Heaven with our Lord? We ask the Saints to intercede for us, to pray for us, and we pray along with them.
Mary is a Saint as well. So when people question our devotion to Mary, my first response is the one just given. We do not pray to Mary. We pray with her. Just as we pray with all the saints in Heaven. But our devotion to Mary goes further than that. Mary is not just another Saint. She holds a very special place in our Catholic faith. Mary said yes to God’s will to be the mother of His only Son. This was not a decision to be taken lightly. She was not married at the time. Aside from having to explain to Joseph, her betrothed, that she was now pregnant with the Son of God, she also faced being stoned to death if it was discovered that she was unwed and with child. There was a lot at stake! But Mary loved God and trusted Him completely. When Gabriel explained what was going to happen, she didn’t ask to think it over. She said “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done tomeaccordingto your word.”(Luke 1:38) What’s more, Mary was not a random choice. Gabriel didn’t go to every woman to see who would be willing to do this. He was sent by God specifically to Mary. In Luke 1:28 Gabriel addresses Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Gabriel refers to Mary as the favored one and acknowledges that the Lord is indeed present with her. If an angel of the Lord can see Mary as holding a position of favor, certainly we can give her a position of honor and recognition as well! What’s more, Jesus shows us the respect for Mary as well. In John 2:12, we read the story of the wedding at Cana. Jesus publicly recognizes Mary’s desires as being worthy of His first miracle as He changes the water into wine at Mary’s request. Our Lord listens to Mary, and so we know that when we ask Mary to intercede for us, her prayers are heard by our Lord. We call Mary our Mother. This is also based in scripture. In John 19:26-27 as Jesus is dying on the cross we read, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” We believe that Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciple that Mary was His mother, we believe He was sharing her as the mother to all of us. We honor Mary because she is honored in the Bible. We consider her to be favored, because God did and sent His angel Gabriel to tell her so! We look to Mary for inspiration for the holy life she led and the willingness she showed toward God’s will. We know that her prayers are heard and so we ask for her intercession to her Son, our Lord, Jesus.
There is only one God. And as Catholics we worship Him alone. To Him all glory and honor is given and no one in heaven or on earth is above Him. We pray to our Lord regularly. We also use visual representation of His love for us through His Son and through holy Saints who have gone before us as inspiration for our own lives. We pray with those who share our faith. We pray together with friends and family on earth and with Mary and all the Saints in Heaven. United in our faith, we pray together to our Lord in Heaven whose love for us is unfailing and whose glory is everlasting.